The urge to look for a door never quite leaves you. Which is hardly surprising, given that the regular gaming protagonist, carrying an arsenal that would embarrass an army, still can’t circumvent the flimsiest wooden obstruction. Yet in Red Faction: Guerrilla, Alex Mason makes his own entrances. With a hammer.
There is nothing in this game, aside from its mountains, that cannot be smashed to bits. Every wall, building, car and 20-story tower can be reduced to rubble by a ludicrous array of thumpingly powerful weaponry. This is a game about smashing, crushing, exploding and demolishing everything you encounter. And it’s glorious.
There’s a jumbled tale of fighting to free Mars from the tyranny of the Earth Defense Force by working for the terrorist Red Faction organization, but it’s mostly garbled and unimportant. Contested areas of Mars are divided into increasingly large sectors. Your goal is to drive the EDF from each. The baddies are removed by the completion of side quests (rescuing hostages, taking out as many buildings as possible, assaults on bases), on-the-fly quests (radio messages will alert you to nearby incidents), the demolition of key EDF structures, and through central, multi-part story missions.
As EDF numbers go down and guerrilla morale goes up, the balance will gradually shift in your favour. Don’t expect any stealth or tactical, squad-based assaults. Mason will gain the support of local guerrilla fighters, but his methods are single-minded: get in, blow it up, get away.
It’s this focused bedlam and the vast array of ways to perform it that reminds you this is from the developers who created the fantastic Saints Row 2. It’s so enormous, so varied (well, the reasons for blowing shit up are varied, anyway), and so splendidly balanced that there’s an endless desire to press forward.
The weapons, from your initial giant hammer to the nanotech rifles and singularity mines, escalate stupendously, raising the range of razing before you could ever grow bored. You buy new equipment with the game’s currency: salvage. Which you’ll not be shocked to learn is acquired by smashing stuff up. Trade it in at a safe house for new tech, then jump in a nearby vehicle to wreak more insane destruction.
The enemy AI varies peculiarly between cunning, defensive, and standing stock still while you shoot at it. Friends can similarly be a massive asset, or madly run you over with a 30 ton truck. And talking of trucks, Red Faction’s vehicles, while fun, lack a needful feeling of traction.
Yet the pacing is damned smart, the difficulty curve pitch perfect. Victories are a cause for jubilation, your losses leave you distraught. Not bad for a game that’s essentially about hitting walls with a hammer. And then there are those moments where you catch yourself looking for the way into a building, and then remember. And create your own. Maybe with a truck. That’s something that never gets old.
Sep 15, 2009